Whether or not Doug Glanville EAS’93 is the most accomplished baseball player ever to hang a University of Pennsylvania diploma on his wall is something for horsehide historians to decide. While it’s fair to say that Mark DeRosa W’97 and Roy Thomas W1894 would give him a good run for his money, Glanville’s nine-year big-league career with the Phillies, Cubs, and Rangers was more than respectable, and his standout 1999 season—when he hit .325 and tracked down innumerable drives to the distant precincts of the outfield—was the stuff of stardom.

But in the rarified realm of Penn-graduated player-chroniclers, Glanville is in a league of his own. That is not damning with faint praise. In the five years since he hung up his cleats, Glanville has authored an online column (“Heading Home”) for The New York Times, become an analyst for ESPN.com, and, with no help from a ghostwriter, written a book that draws from his Times columns and takes his game to another level.

The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayer’s Inside View, published in May by Times Books, is not just a riveting read; it’s also a thoughtful and articulate examination of the game and the sometimes-fragile humans who play it. He covers such explosive issues as steroid use with a clubhouse insider’s insight and a bioethicist’s nuance, while also elevating a juicy story about the perils of bringing a girlfriend into the team’s family room [see excerpt on p. 45] to a meditation on boundaries and propriety.

Judging from the reactions of players like Cal Ripken Jr. and Jimmy Rollins—not to mention scribes like George Will and Peter Gammons—Glanville has caught the game and its players right in the webbing. Buzz Bissinger C’76, author of Three Nights in August and no slouch at taut prose himself, calls it “a book of uncommon grace and elegance,” one “filled with insight and a certain kind of poetry in its spare and haunting prose.”

Glanville and the Gazette go back a ways. As the subject of senior editor Samuel Hughes’s first feature article for the magazine in 1991, he was kind enough to let Hughes hang out in his family’s home in Teaneck, New Jersey, on the day that he was drafted by the Cubs in the first round. Seven years later he pried himself away from the good life in Montreal long enough to grant a phone interview that resulted in an Alumni Profile [July|Aug 1998].

This past March, when Glanville was on campus to give a talk at Kelly Writers House, he shared some increasingly hilarious baseball stories with Hughes over a long dinner that culminated in something called a Cha Cha Cha. Somewhere during that time he also agreed to write an essay for the Gazette and answer some email questions.


Didn’t you get the memo that engineering majors can’t write thoughtful, colorful prose?

At Penn, I remember that the knock on systems engineers was that we were “Jack of all trades, master of none,” but that was the glass-half-empty speaking. I always saw it as a comprehensive discipline, fitting for someone who likes to consider many possibilities and who sought understanding in all the factors that go into creating a design. My parents fostered an environment that celebrated knowledge and learning. Part of this process helped me believe that there really were no boxes unless you allow someone else to define you and put you into it. My father was a psychiatrist, but also a poet, a teacher, and a community pillar, and watching him constantly expand and re-invent himself was inspiring. I came to expect it to be part of my life. So why not be a writer?

Who are some of your favorite baseball writers? What did you learn from them?

I loved Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season. It is poetic, insightful, witty, fair, and downright familiar. He also took a path that I am following in some respects. He wrote for Sports Illustrated; then he got a chance to write a book and said “Why not?” Buzz Bissinger is also a wonderful writer on all things, baseball being one of them.

You address the difficulties of players’ post-baseball transitions, including your own, in your Times column and book. Are you at all surprised by the success you’ve had with your writing?

The Times writing came on the heels of a very difficult time for me in the real-estate market, so it was a coming-out party for me after sifting through the economic downturn that hit my business hard. In some ways, that experience helped me focus on my passions and gave me an even greater appreciation for having clarity. I learned a lot about crisis managing and going after what you love. So when you come from such a pure and focused place that is almost spiritual, you already have success in many ways.

It was wonderful to get the tremendously positive feedback, but had I not, it would have still had purpose and quite frankly, would have been therapeutic, if nothing else. What I am surprised at is the speed at which everything changed. One minute I was looking for an agent roaming the streets of New York; the next minute, George Will is sending me a quote for my book.

Were there some clubhouse stories you wanted to tell but for various reasons couldn’t? Did you run stories that might have caused embarrassment past the players involved?

My first draft eclipsed 100,000 words. So a lot ended up on the cutting-room floor. I made it a policy that anything that would have put someone in a difficult spot, I would contact them to make sure I had their side of the story. In the end, players appreciated my approach and in many cases, trusted that I would run with it responsibly. There are many ways to tell a story, just as I can make an emphatic point without using profanity. There is also an extensive legal vetting early on that provides some direction. I remember debating whether to use a player’s name on a few occasions. One was the player that advised me to “never let them see you with a white woman” or the player Buck Showalter was worried about to the point where he called me to find a back-up. But in the end, I am thrilled with the end product and I think it is fair without losing the honesty and edge needed.

Can you share the story about Scott Rolen and the players’ quilt that you told me over dinner?

One year, the players’ wives had a quilt made to auction off for charity. Each player would get a square and had creative liberty to design it how they saw fit. Then, when the quilt was done, we had to autograph our square. I didn’t have a wife so I dragged my feet until someone designed a basic square for me, which made me one of the last to sign. By then, Rolen had been traded to St. Louis. I finally went to sign my square and saw that the quilt was a bunch of red and white squares for the team colors, with the exception of this big black square in the middle. Upon closer inspection, it was Rolen’s square, which was this dark, purple, black, forest-green color scheme depicting an image of himself at the end of a dock over choppy waters and ravens … in full uniform. Everything about it was ominous. Then it registered that he got in the last laugh on the Phillies and I could not stop laughing for about 15 minutes. It was vintage Scott.


Any key memories of your time at Penn, academic, athletic, or otherwise?

Penn was such a rich experience in a tough time, going from a teen to your 20s. I remember a lot of moments, including oversleeping for my Environmental Studies final and sprinting down Locust Walk completely disoriented (I got there 15 minutes late). I remember a big play I made in a game against Navy where I threw a runner out at home after I had slipped on my first step. I recovered and made the throw of my life. I also remember making the NCAA tournament and knocking off the Big 10 Champ—University of Illinois. People were shocked, but we had five guys drafted from that team. We were really good. We also blew the biggest lead in NCAA tournament history, up 14 or 15 to 0. That was the quietest bus ride home I have ever been on.

Certain Penn connections have stayed with you—David Montgomery C’68 WG’70 and Alan Schwarz C’90 come to mind immediately. Thoughts?

Penn is great at staying connected. Everywhere I played, there was a Penn group at the game. It really has this sense of community that continues on. It is one of the best attributes of the Penn experience. I saw David recently and sat in the owner’s box for a game. Wonderful person and great citizen of Philadelphia. Alan helped me get the New York Times column after many years of our shared growth while I was playing. I serve on the board for the engineering school, which keeps me close to what is happening.

As we speak, The Game From Where I Stand is a few days away from publication. What’s been the reaction from former players who have read it?

Well, Jimmy Rollins was rolling on the floor laughing at various times, which is a good sign. Cal Ripken Jr. was very positive. I think that is what may be most different about this book. Historically (Ball Four, for example), players didn’t take too kindly to this type of exposure, but I believe players will really enjoy my book and feel it is their intimate thoughts expressed in a way where they feel courageous, not betrayed.

When you watch a game now, how do your reactions/impressions/emotions compare with those you had before you turned pro?

It is very different. I still love baseball, but I have seen its ugly side to go with its glorious side. Business, getting traded, released, injured, and booed. Nevertheless, it is such a great game, but I am not that 10-year-old obsessed kid who could not get enough of it. I have a family of my own now, with new joys and new focuses, and I hope that when my kids get older, they will celebrate the game. Maybe then, I will become 10 again.

Do you miss the game enough that you would ever consider going back and becoming a coach or working in the front office of a team?

I would never say never, but I don’t think the rhythm of being involved every day, home and the road, is good for me and my family at this time. I always think about working for and with David Montgomery. I just don’t know how, being in Chicago. I was thinking about turning my book into a mentoring guide and then using it to work with the players—The Game from Where I Stand - Teacher’s Edition!

What’s next?

I would love to help players transition from the game on a big scale. I believe that will be valuable not just to baseball players but anyone transitioning. People in general have a tough time transitioning. When I wrote the piece “The Forgotten” for the Times, I heard from so many professionals outside of baseball who said, “That is my story!” I never received so many 6-7-paragraph emails than I did after that article—from ballet dancers to physicians. It really resonated.

 

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FEATURE: Desperately Seeking Blank By Doug Glanville
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